August 14, 2019

Newest Thomas Sweet Store Has More Than Just Ice Cream

I SCREAM, YOU SCREAM: Marco Cucchi, owner of the Thomas Sweet ice cream stores, has been involved with the business since his Princeton High School days. (Photo by Matt Altaro)

By Anne Levin

At the newest Thomas Sweet location on Princeton Hightstown Road, homemade ice cream is still the star. But it shares billing with soups, sandwiches, fresh baked goods, and other items that may not be familiar to patrons of the ice cream parlor that opened at 183 Nassau Street four decades ago.

“We have multiple products,” said Marco Cucchi, who bought the business from its original owners in 2005. “We added some items when we opened a cafe in Skillman a few years ago, but I wanted to take it even further with this one.”

The new Thomas Sweet in Windsor Plaza, which opened in June, is just in time for the company’s 40th anniversary year. Founded in 1979 by two Toms — Tom Grimm and Tom Block — the original store quickly gained a following for its homemade ice creams and blend-ins, a novelty at the time. Cucchi, a Princeton native, scooped ice cream at the store all through Princeton High School, from which he graduated in 1986.

After earning a master’s degree in business at Fordham University, Cucchi worked at Price Waterhouse Coopers, IBM, and Mastercard. But ice cream was always in the back of his mind.

“I got tired of the corporate world,” he said. “I was doing a lot of traveling. And I had this entrepreneurial spirit. I was living in Connecticut at the time, and I wanted to open an ice cream store.”

Alerted that Block and Grimm were ready to leave Thomas Sweet, Cucchi got in touch, bought the business, and came back to Princeton. The company now has locations in Princeton (ice cream on Nassau Street; chocolates on Palmer Square), Skillman, New Brunswick, Washington, West Windsor, and New Hope, Pa. After a venture that would have opened some 200 stores in China eight years ago, Cucchi decided to focus closer to home. “We opened five or six in China, but closed them after a time,” Cucchi said. “It was a fleeting deal — exciting for awhile.”

Trends in frozen desserts come and go, but ice cream remains strong. “Yogurt tends to go in cycles,” said Cucchi. “We’re coming to the waning part of that second generations of yogurt customers. But here in Princeton, there are so many great options for food today. There are so many choices, and probably that has led to a little softening of the business. But we have a loyal customer base.”

The Thomas Sweet chocolate shop on Palmer Square has recently been renovated, with new cases and a more modern look. Some celebratory events and promotions will be held at the stores to celebrate the 40th anniversary. At the newest location, which is near Princeton Junction train station, the store is offering self-service coffee and grab-and-go items to serve commuters. Ice cream remains the main attraction, but Cucchi clearly has his eye on broadening the product base.

“We’ve been sampling out a lot of different things, so we’re beginning to develop a morning and afternoon business as well as later in the day, when people want ice cream,” he said. “The community here has been fantastic, so we’re really pleased.”